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Dear John: Where Does Generosity End And Mooching Begin?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


What’s your problem? Write to John at [email protected]

Dear John,

At 56 I find myself well past a divorce and successfully independent. I have a good career and two adult children with whom I am close.

I have been in a relationship with a man for over five years. It was rocky at first. He was critical of me and hid things from me, including exploring other relationships. We broke up several times but somehow got back together through talking and counseling. I have learned much about myself, and he is a good partner. Nearing retirement and having gone through a divorce himself, he is in a weaker financial position than I am, and his income has been reduced considerably with the economic downturn. A year ago he sold his house and I allowed him to move in with me rent-free while he stabilized his situation. His work is starting to pick up, and I have bought a new house and would like him to contribute financially. He says he still does not have the money to contribute and will help out in other ways, like bringing in income by managing an apartment attached to the house, but this gnaws at me. I should be able to bring in that income regardless – it is one of the reasons I bought the property. I pay for all of our social life, many vacations and gifts. I made it clear years ago to him that I could never see myself being financially responsible for a partner, but he keeps going back to the fact that because my earnings are so much higher than his, what else can we do? I relented, and it looks like he is finding some work. Also, one of my children is going to need more financially from me this year. 

I find myself feeling resentful when I see him buying things or going out with friends and paying his own way. I have a friend whose situation is the opposite of mine: her partner earns much less than she does and won’t do anything with her he can't afford. What is the middle ground here? My partner would like to get married someday and though I would like to as well, I do not want to fund his retirement or healthcare needs.


Generous To A Fault

Dear Generous,

You frame your question in terms of how much (or how little) money your boyfriend has, but the underlying question is whether he is taking advantage of you, isn’t it? In other words, if he were working hard at something he finds fulfilling and worthwhile, but contributed a relatively small amount to your household finances, would you be okay with that? You provide very little detail about what he does for work, how he spends his time, etc., but I get the distinct impression that you feel like he’s mooching off you. Is that the real problem here?

You have expectations about what you want a partner to bring to your relationship as far as economic security goes. There’s nothing wrong with that. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re being selfish, too money-focused, or anything else in an attempt to get you to ignore how you feel. Right now, your current partner isn’t living up to your expectations – if he were, you wouldn’t be resentful. That’s a problem. I would advise you to trust your gut. If you want to get married to someone without being his retirement and health insurance plan in addition to his wife, you should ask yourself if this is really the guy for you. You shouldn’t have to talk yourself into staying with someone.


Dear John,

My wife and I are part of an extended group of friends that includes a guy who is a talented, respected painter. His work isn’t hanging in the Met, but he’s not a hobbyist, either. The guy is a serious artist. We’re not particularly friendly with him; he’s a friend of friends; but we chatted with him for a while recently at a party. Well, a week or so later, he contacted my wife and asked her if she would consider posing nude for a painting for him. It was all very above board – he was polite and thoughtful in his email, it was sent to the email account our family shares, etc. But I think this guy is so full of shit. I feel like I’m the only one who sees through this great scam he’s got going – “I can see any woman I want nude because I’m an artist! All I have to do is ask!” And I’m not even allowed to suggest the possibility that sex might be his primary motivation. Seriously, you would be surprised at the benefit of the doubt everyone gives him, as if he is some chaste, pure being immune from physical desire. In my opinion, the guy’s a good painter who’s not above using his reputation to at least get attractive women to undress for him and then just see where it leads.

As you probably suspect, I am not in favor of this. My wife, also probably predictably, is flattered and thinks I’m being silly and immature. And our friends think I’m a philistine for the most part, although I do have a couple of them on my side. Where do you come out?


Love The Art, Not The Artist

Dear Love The Art,

Based on the painters I’ve known, I’m sure many, if not most, would think nothing of exploiting their artistic reputations to hit on a woman – the straight ones, anyway. But why is it either/or? Can’t an artist be thinking, “God, she is so hot!” as he painstakingly creates his masterpiece?

To me, the more interesting question is, even if you’re exactly right, so what? You admit this man is a talented painter. So he sees your wife nude and, presumably, finds her attractive. Lusts after her, even. Why does that bother you so much? You don’t address the only issue that really matters here: what does she think? If she wants to do it, and it sounds like she does, she should do it. If that threatens you for some reason, that is the problem you should be giving some thought to.


Dear John,

About eight months ago, my husband of three years dropped a bit of a bomb: he was a sperm donor to make some money when he was in graduate school shortly before we met. He did it quite a few times, although he had stopped doing it (only because he got a better job and didn’t need the money any more) around the time we met.

He didn’t tell me before we were married, he says, because he didn’t think it was a big deal. As said, “It would be like telling you I masturbated before I met you – that’s the extent of it, and why would I even think to tell you that?” Also, he says he was a little embarrassed at being so desperate for money.

I did not receive this news particularly well, and I still am kind of upset by it. He describes it as masturbating into a container, but I think of it as being with a guy who has twenty kids running around. (I’m making that number up.) I had never given such things a lot of consideration, but the fact that he has children that he is so separated from – the anonymity of it – appalls me. To make it even more complicated and emotionally charged, I want to have a child together and he doesn’t want to, at least not right now, and exactly when is an open question. Irony of ironies, I know. So I feel like this is taking on a weightier role in our marriage than he ever anticipated it would. (He recently said as much expressing his regret that he ever brought it up at all.) So how can I put this in perspective and forget about it as it deserves… any thoughts?


No Kids For Me

Dear No Kids For Me,

While I agree this was something your husband should have shared with you before you got married, I was wondering why it was so upsetting to you. Until I came to the end of your letter. Did you know you had different attitudes toward having kids when you got married? Did one of you have a change of heart or mind? This is a very, very big issue for any couple, and I think it’s inextricably linked to your reaction to the sperm donation revelation. I don’t think you should forget about it at all. I think you should explore the connection between these two issues with your husband. And if that goes nowhere, then with a marriage therapist.

John is a middle-aged family man from Providence. If you learn from your mistakes, he’s brilliant. Write to him at [email protected]


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